OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – As East Alabama Medical Center healthcare workers labor tirelessly to save lives during a rapid rise of COVID-19 infections, they are mentally and physically exhausted.
Tuesday, we spoke with East Alabama Health’s Critical Incident Stress Management Counselor, Deborah Owen. With more than forty years in mental health wellness, Owen is a healthcare hero’s confidential shoulder to lean on.
“I doubt there has ever been this kind of stress for the health care industry in my lifetime. I think people are totally exhausted, both emotionally and physically,” said Owen.
Owen’s purpose is to listen to workers’ struggles in caring for patients and their own families during a pandemic. Owen is there when fat tears fall down masked marked faces, as they mourn the loss of a patient or even someone they know. Owen allows them to vent frustrations, shake fists in grief. Owen is there to love, comfort, console, and listen.
“When they are caring for someone day in and day out, they do everything in their power to save them. They have intubated them, and then they die. It’s completely defeating. They have developed a bond with the patient, and they grieve with the family. We know one death is hard enough to grieve, but when you multiply that by hundreds, you can imagine how exhausting it is for all medical care workers,” shared Owen.
As Delta surges and takes more lives, sorrow is amplified by a patient’s remorse. Owen says many patients ask for the vaccine, and healthcare workers are forced to tell them it’s too late for that, but list all the other medical interventions they can do to help battle the virus.
“People are dealing with regrets as they are dying. They have regretted not getting the vaccine, and now they are seriously ill. I don’t think the medical community was ready to deal with their patient’s regrets. They have been dealing with grief, and now this,” said Owen.
Community support is vital. Owen is hopeful parking lot prayer vigils return soon outside East Alabama Health Campuses. The candlelight, praise music, and worship were a gift during suffocating shifts.
“I do hope they start doing them again, really soon. We were so touched to look down and see the cars on our parking deck praying for us; it was so touching,” said Owen.
Individually, we can all reach out to a health care worker and offer help. Owen says while healthcare workers are struggling to save lives, test or distribute vaccines, they are also faced with pandemic challenges in their own homes. A child or loved one getting sick is extra stressful, so is an unexpected quarantine from school, along with running a household and chores.
“We all know a healthcare worker. So please, reach out and do practical things for them. Things like doing their laundry, cutting their grass, make them a meal, take their kids to school, go shopping for them, clean their home, so when they do come home, they can enjoy their family, and they can rest,” said Owen.
Donating meals to the hospital is also appreciated, as they rarely have time to leave for lunch. EAMC Foundation has a special fund set up that pays for meals from local businesses for frontline staff. If you or your business would like to donate to this Covid-19 Relief Fund, please visit https://eamcfoundation8686.thankyou4caring.org/covid-19-relief.
“The number one thing you can do to help healthcare workers and bring this pandemic to an end is to get vaccinated,” said Owen.
While Owen is busy helping East Alabama Health, there is a movement to help other healthcare workers running on empty. The Emotional PPE project is a non-profit group providing free counseling to health care workers across the U.S. The Emotional PPE Project connects healthcare workers in need with licensed mental health professionals who can help. No cost. No insurance. Just a trained professional to talk to.
For more information on contacting a counselor or donating your service as a licensed mental healthcare worker, you can visit their website. https://www.emotionalppe.org/
Physicians, nurses, and support staff have been in the fight for a year and a half. But, now, there’s a sense some in the community have forsaken them; their attention focused on divisive politics and deadly misinformation regarding vaccines and masks. We are losing sight of the hero’s and what they are doing to save lives. EAMC Healthcare workers are asking you to trust them to share the best information they have backed by research and data, to save your life.
There is plenty of finger-pointing and blame, but a lack of authentic accountability and solutions that appear we look in the mirror and do our part as individuals. Healthcare workers see the true enemy dividing our community and taking too many of our loved ones to the grave. COVID-19, and the Delta variant doesn’t care who you voted for, where you live, your age, your sex, or your current health status. It’s non-discriminatory; it lives to infect and spread. Owen urges us all to act as individuals, to save our community.